Relax! Your Baby Will Thank You!
Part 2 of a 2-part series.
Effects of Traumatic Events continued...
High-risk pregnancy expert Andrei Rebarber, MD, agrees. "It's an
interesting phenomenon, but admittedly, we don't have great markers from what
we know thus far," says Rebarber, an associate professor at the Mt. Sinai
School of Medicine in New York City.
That said, when stress does a play a role, Rebarber believes it's most
likely long-term chronic anxiety and tension that is of most concern.
"The basic idea here is that the maternal response to chronic stress
compromises various hormones during pregnancy, including causing higher levels
of CRH [corticotropin releasing hormone], in conjunction with cortisol and
other stress hormones, to cross the placenta," says Rebarber.
It is this cascade of events, he says, that appears to affect premature
labor and birth, possibly affecting the growth rate of the baby.
Pregnancy and Acute Stress: Important Links
While most experts agree that any truly detrimental effects of stress are
likely to be the result of long-term or chronic stress, what about those
life-changing events that happen suddenly?
Hobel says it's not something most women have to worry about.
"No matter how severe, if it's just one episode, most women can handle
it, particularly if they have a good support system, with family members,
spouses, and friends helping them through the trying event," says
And that's precisely what doctors in New York City learned in the days and
weeks following the events of Sept. 11. While they fully expected the stress of
that day to increase rates of premature birth, surprisingly, says Young, this
was not the case.
Rebarber says that some of the Sept. 11 data showed an increase in women
starting labor early, but that early delivery had not necessarily
Hobel believes that may be because the effects of a sudden episode of a
stressful event are far more likely to cause problems when experienced early
rather than late in the pregnancy.
That is precisely what researchers at the University of California at Irvine
documented following the 1994 northern California earthquake. In this instance,
women who were in their first three months of pregnancy when the quake hit were
far more likely to deliver prematurely than women who were in their third
trimester when the disaster occurred.
"The definition of major stressors includes things like loss of another
child or a parent -- something personally profound and traumatic," says
Pregnant and Stressed? How to Tell
While studies are teaching us some of the deleterious effects of stress,
they're also helping to validate that stress reduction can offer both mother
and baby important benefits.
The stumbling block, say doctors, is that many women are not aware of just
how stressed they are or the simple ways they can control it.
"When we think of stress we tend to think of the big, easy-to-identify
events, or even the annoying factors we encounter every day. What we don't
realize is that how we care for ourselves on a daily basis holds the real key
to stress control," says Hobel.